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Different Types Of Penetration Testing – A Complete Guide

Penetration testing is also called “ethical hacking” or “pen testing”. It is used to evaluate the security of a system by simulating an attack by a malicious threat actor. It is also used for detecting vulnerabilities, checking their risk, and help organizations to protect their data and systems. 

There are many ways to categorize pen tests into different types:

  • type of target tested
  • information that is given to the experts
  • goals of the assessment itself

These all are used for different purposes and often together when “scoping out” assessment work.

In this guide, you’ll get the know-how about different types of penetration testing.

Before reading the “different types of penetration tests“, let’s start with “what is a penetration test?“.

You can also check out our penetration testing services here.


types of pen testing


What is a Penetration Test?

Penetration testing is a simulated attack on a system used to check whether the system is secure or not. It is done to identify security problems in the system so they can get fixed.

Penetration testing is different from vulnerability scanning, which is more of an automated process.

To learn more about penetration testing, read the “Penetration Testing – What, Why, And How?” guide.

Different Types of Penetration Testing

There are many different types of penetration testing. Each type needs specific knowledge, tools, and methodologies . The main types of pen testing are:

  • Network Services
  • Web Application
  • API 
  • Mobile Application
  • Host, embedded/IoT device
  • Cloud
  • Thin or thick client
  • Wireless
  • Social Engineering
  • Physical Penetration Testing

Network Services

Network penetration testing helps to identify vulnerabilities in networks such as vulnerabilities in servers, firewalls, switches, and network listening devices. This type of pen testing can help in protecting businesses from common network-based attacks, such as:

  • Firewall configuration problems
  • MITM (Man in the Middle) attacks
  • Vulnerable IoT / network listening devices
  • Routing-based attacks
  • SSH attacks
  • Proxy server attacks
  • Attacks on unnecessary open ports
  • Database attacks
  • AD attacks
  • FTP/SMTP-based attacks

Normally, network pen testing is subdivided into external or internal network penetration testing

To learn more about external and internal penetration testing, kindly read the “External vs Internal Penetration Test” guide.

Web Application 

Web application penetration testing is used to identify vulnerabilities in web-based applications. It is designed to attack the web application to identify potential security risks and provide guidance. 

This pen testing type is also used for checking whether the existing security controls are effective or not. This test also identifies areas where additional security controls may be necessary.

Vulnerabilities identified during this type of testing can include:

  • OWASP Top 10
  • Auth and access control vulnerabilities
  • Session Management vulnerabilities
  • Injection attacks such as XSS, SQL injection, and more
  • XXE
  • CSRF
  • Design flaws
  • MiTM
  • Configuration flaws
  • SSRF
  • File upload and file download vulnerabilities such as directory traversal
  • And more

API Penetration Testing

This type of penetration testing is similar to web applications but focuses on APIs only.

Some vulnerabilities that apply to web applications do not necessarily apply to all APIs.

For example, Reflected XSS is not applicable to most APIs.

Mobile Penetration Testing

This type of pen testing helps organizations find vulnerabilities in their mobile applications.

During the testing process, the security tester will analyze things such as:

  • The mobile application and related network and system for any potential security vulnerabilities.
  • Determining, if these vulnerabilities can be exploited to access sensitive data or perform malicious activities.
  • Checking the application’s code and library components for any security flaws.
  • Checking the application’s login and access control mechanisms to determine if they are secure.
  • Checking the mobile application’s network such as the APIs the mobile app may be making requests to.
  • Looking into the mobile application’s data storage and encryption mechanisms. This is done to check that sensitive data is securely stored and protected from potential attackers.
  • The application’s logging and reporting mechanisms ensure that any potential security incidents are logged and reported in a timely manner.

Did you know that when people talk about different types of penetration testing it may be about black/white/gray box testing? You may want to read Black Box Penetration Test Vs White Box Penetration Test Vs Grey Box Penetration Test

IoT Pen testing

Embedded or IoT Devices

IoT penetration testing is a process of evaluating the security of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, networks, and applications. This type of penetration testing is done to identify security vulnerabilities and ensure the system’s security. This type of pen testing is usually more complex than others. This is because a lot of different component types and threats need to be taken into account.

Cloud Penetration Testing

This type of penetration testing is used to identify security problems in cloud-based systems. It is a vital part of the cloud security strategy. It is used to protect organizations’ cloud systems from data breaches and other malicious activity.

Cloud penetration testing helps organizations identify areas where security measures need to be improved. It involves automated tools and manual testing to check the security of a cloud-based system. This includes testing the security of the cloud infrastructure, applications, and data.

Client-side Penetration Testing

This type of pen testing is done by testers to identify vulnerabilities in client-side applications like client emails, web browsers, and executables. It is used to check the risk of these applications and ensure they are secure.


This type of penetration testing is a specialized form of ethical hacking used to identify security vulnerabilities in a wireless network. It is used to check the security of a wireless network and identify any potential weaknesses. It is similar to other traditional penetration testing types, but the primary difference is that it focuses on wireless technologies.

It is often used by organizations to verify that their wireless networks are adequately protected.

Social Engineering

Social engineering testing is a unique type of pen testing as it focuses on humans rather than on software. This testing is designed to simulate real-world phishing attacks and is conducted by ethical hackers. It is a process of using creative techniques to gain access to confidential information or resources from an organization or an individual.

Humans remain one of the biggest attack paths for organizations. After all, it does not matter how secure firewalls are if an internal user takes their device home and accidentally downloads malware after clicking on a phishing email they received. 

Social engineering testing is becoming increasingly important as the use of technology, and the Internet grows. Attackers are becoming more sophisticated in their techniques, and as a result, organizations must be prepared to respond to such attacks. Social engineering testing can help organizations identify vulnerabilities in their security systems and assess the impact of potential attacks. 

The results of this test can be used to create advice for improving a security posture of an organization. This can include implementing more robust security controls, establishing employee awareness training, or updating policies and procedures. It can also help organizations ensure that their security systems are up-to-date and functioning properly.

Physical Penetration Testing

Physical penetration testing is a type of security testing that focuses on checking the physical security of a system. The goal is to identify weaknesses in the physical security system and to create a plan to repair them.

It is important for businesses with significant on-premise assets such as locations with private servers containing vital data.

It usually starts with a security check of the physical environment. This includes examining the layout of the building, the security measures in place, and the access points to the system. From there, the security team can determine which area is most common to attack.

This testing typically involves testing each security measure in place, such as locks, alarms, CCTV systems, and guards.

Once the testing plan has been created, the testers will then simulate physical attacks on the environment. This can include attempting to gain access to a building, breaking into locked areas, or trying to bypass security measures. During the process of testing, the security team will note down the weaknesses and make recommendations for strengthening the organization’s security.

After the physical penetration testing is complete, the security team will create a report detailing the findings and recommendations.

This report should include a piece of detailed information about the following:

  • security measures in place
  • areas that were most vulnerable to attack
  • recommendations for strengthening the security of the system or building


There are many types of penetration testing. This shows just how complicated the field of penetration testing is. 

Did you know that BB-SEC specializes in many types of pen testing with exceptional subject matter experts? Contact us to find out more. 

What Are The Different Types Of Penetration Testing? Everything You Need To Know

About BB-SEC

We are a North Carolina-based cyber security consulting firm, specializing in premium quality services such as penetration testing, code reviews, and architecture reviews. Find out more about our most in-demand services:

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